To the casual observer it appears that Virginia is run by violent psychopaths. That’s the takeaway from the recent report of an anti-poker SWAT team raid in Fairfax County, in which eight assault rifle-sporting police officers moved against ten card-playing civilians. The police possibly seized more than $200,000 from the game, of which 40 percent they eventually kept.
There was no indication that any of the players was armed. As a matter of fact, it appears that a gambler is more likely to be shot without provocation by the Fairfax Police than the other way around. The heavy firepower at the Fairfax raid was apparently motivated by the fact that “at times, illegal weapons are present” at such poker games, and that “Asian gangs” have allegedly targeted such events in the past. This is, then, a novel approach to law enforcement: as a matter of policy, Fairfax police now attempt to rob and steal from people before street gangs get around to doing it.
It is a mystery why we put up with this obscene police behavior. Gambling itself is not illegal in Virginia; it is simply controlled by the state. So the Fairfax police department did not bust these hapless poker players with guns drawn for doing something truly immoral and fully outlawed, merely for doing something in a way not approved by the state legislature. Were gambling actually forbidden in Virginia, then a crackdown could at least be understood, if not condoned in so paramilitary a fashion. Yet Virginia’s stance on the matter is not to treat gambling as malum in se, but rather as an instrumentum regni: our government prefers to funnel gambling money into its own coffers for its own ends, outlaw the same thing when it’s done outside of the state’s jurisdiction, and then steal the money of the poor fellows who happen to get caught.
Local Police Are Not Supposed to Be Thugs
This is, in other words, a matter of state-sanctioned greed and opportunism. Gambling is an immensely profitable business. Like alcohol, a portion of which industry the government in Virginia also controls with a similar level of violence and incompetence, gambling is enough of a cash cow that the Commonwealth is reluctant to let anyone else handle it. This is not because state-controlled lotteries are any more virtuous or less risky. Indeed, Virginia officials know gambling can be both addicting and destructive, which is why the state prints gambling self-help phone numbers on all of its tickets.
Governments control gambling not to legitimize and sanitize the practice, but to extract as much money from the citizenry as they possibly can. In the state’s eyes, the fault of the poker players in Fairfax lay not in betting money on a card game, but in not pouring money into the state’s bank account while they were doing so.
More than anything, events like these are a helpful reminder as to why many of us support smaller and explicitly limited government. Given the choice between more freedoms and liberties, or empowering a bunch of armor-clad incompetent murderers, it is a wonder anyone would ever pick the latter. A free people does not deserve to be governed by thugs and gun-toting lunatics. The Fairfax police department should be ashamed of itself—and the citizens of Fairfax, and of Virginia generally, should move quickly to change the sad state of affairs in which a harmless card game is met with a militarized police response.